Eats Shoots and Flies, December 22, 2006
Simon Flower reports on a International Biathlon Union Development Camp in Austria in which he participated in transit to the Australian XC Junior training location in Silver Star.
As with all super heroes my exploits began with sacrifice: the sacrifice of personal freedom. Three flights and transit times totalling 38 hours, while paying over $2000 to live the single-serving life is a heavy price to pay to chase the white stuff.
The first leg was long and very wearing; crying children behind us all the way to Heathrow, then, when their pregnant mum lost a bag during stopover in Singapore the faecal matter really hit the fan. More of the same for the remaining legs with only a few questions as to why there were two unaccompanied underage Australians carrying rifle stocks overseas.
Once in Munich and away from the single-serving life we were met by an IBU representative bearing one of those little signs.
He says, "From Australie?". I say "yes". He says, "Sprekenzee Deutch?". I say, "Nein". He nods as if in understanding but then starts a 15 minute (and I might add very one-sided) german conversation, stopping occasionally as if in question only to be met by a jetlagged and confused aussie who mutters a pathetic "ya".
We picked up a couple of guys (and their gold toothed coach) from Kazakstan… or Kyrgistan… or Tysjekistan, anyway from one of the -stans then continued on our way to somewhere accessed by a 300km/h speed limit.
This somewhere turned out to be Salzburg where we made a brief stopover to discover there was no one to pick up due to a screw up with three of the Russian guys being called Dmitri as well as the Argentineans sending 11 athletes instead of two.
Once in the snow less Obertilliach I was pretty much turfed out of the van and sent into this little pub/hotel where the lung cancer strike rate would have been nearing 100%. After being led to my room I pretty much flaked out and slept till 2:30 in the morning when I woke to the sound of church bells (who the hell rings church bells then?).
After a breakfast of cold meat, chocolate and bread it was down to the range where there is about $30 000 of snowmaking a day, a 1.3km loop and 300 people carrying rifles. Great fun, and although I'm not yet a "crack shot" (however I think there was one guy from Brazil there who was, we heard a loud crack as he shot out the metal that holds up the targets). I met up with Raymesy in the days leading into his world cup preparation and got my ski legs amongst the hundreds jostling for position on the loop which resembles the mosh pit of hoppet start all the way around (and stakes are a little higher if tempers fray as everyone's carrying a loaded rifle).
My coach was a lady from Slovakia who has been ranked 4th in the world and was still competing at Torino this year. She didn't speak a lot of English and I didn't understand a lot of whatever language it is that she spoke (believe me we tried) so there was a lot of sign language and we actually had a couple of people translating the instructions through their second and third languages into Italian, whatever they speak in Greenland, German then English. So it really was a twisted game of Chinese whispers.
After a week of the same processes of the morning and afternoon shooting and skiing sessions I felt the learning starting to have some effect and I was pretty stoked when my shooting didn't seem to drop below 60%.
Conveniently, there was a European Cup race being held in Obertilliach at the end of the training week and I managed to get a start for my first ever real biathlon event. On the day of the race it finally began to snow and we got about two foot and hour all morning. As you can imagine this made the shooting more difficult (especially when sights fill with snow and you have to shoot by guess work) so I set a personal worst of 30% and had to rely on the skiing fitness I didn't have to get me through. I finished 109th out of 145 starters so I wasn't too disappointed when it was an U21 race and the big European teams were there. It turned out to be a lot of fun even though my performances in almost everything were worse than I'd hoped.
With the race over it was time for some serious eating and the Austrian Apple strudel provided the perfect opportunity to pack on some post race pounds.
On the whole the biathlon experience was a fantastic trip and a golden opportunity to learn a lot more about the sport at the expense of the IBU. I also want to put out my thanks to Aislinn Kildea who, as a promising young skier/biathlete, was also part of the camp, Bob Cranage who has recently introduced both Ash and myself to the sport and coached us in preparation for the camp, and Paul Connor who was the whole reason Ash and I were able to be involved in such a great trip.
If there are any skiers reading this who might be considering having a go at shooting (for sport or revenge purposes) I highly recommend you join in one of the many race/learning days to be held at Hotham in the coming 2007 season.